Med Sci Law 2010 Oct;50(4):183-8
Occupational Health Department, Cancers and Populations, ERI3 INSERM, Faculty of Medicine, Caen University Hospital, Caen, France.
The term 'euthanasia' is not clearly defined. Euthanasia is evoked in many aspects of terminal care: interruption of curative treatment at the end of life, palliative care or the act of deliberately provoking death through compassion. A law on 'patients' rights and the end of life', promulgated in France on 22 April 2005, led to changes in the French Code of Public Health. In this work, we have first outlined the key provisions of this law and the changes it has brought, then we have compared current legislation on the subject throughout Europe, where a rapid overview of current practice in terminal patient care revealed four different types of legislation: the first authorizes euthanasia (in the sense of provoking death, if this choice is medically justified), the second legalizes 'assisted suicide', the third, which is sometimes referred to as 'passive euthanasia', consists of the non-administration of life-sustaining treatment and, finally, the fourth prohibits euthanasia in any form whatsoever. In the last section, we have attempted to clarify the as yet indistinct notion of 'euthanasia' in order to determine whether the conception of terminal care in the Law of 22 April 2005 was consistent with that put forward by the philosopher Francis Bacon, who claimed that, 'The physician's role is to relieve pain, not only when such relief can lead to healing, but also when it can proffer a calm and trouble-free death, thus putting an end to the suffering and the agony of death' (modern adaptation of the original quote).